Illinois soccer’s offense beginning to click at start of Big Ten play

The Illinois soccer offense did more than just play better Sunday.

The team combined for a total of 28 shots, 10 on goal, against “previously undefeated Iowa”: This was a vast improvement from the previous weekend in which the Illini could only muster a combined 11 shots, three on goal, in two matches.

The return of junior midfielder “Vanessa DiBernardo”: was a catalyst in the offensive explosion. She made her presence known right away, scoring a goal in only the fourth minute of the game.

It was not just DiBernardo, though. Everything was clicking for the offense, providing relief after finding the back of the net only six times in its first seven games. Still, the team feels there is room for improvement.

“Offensively, we created a lot (of opportunities),” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “Now, I think we need to be a little more selective in what we do with those offensive chances, and it will make us even more dangerous.”

Rayfield added that the team did a better job of possessing the ball than in previous matches, which allowed the Illini to garner more opportunities. Rayfield also felt that her team’s ball movement was one of the biggest reasons that it was able to have a strong offensive attack.

“A lot of it was our movement of the ball — we moved the ball around and we really fought to get behind their defense,” Rayfield said. “We fought hard to get behind them, but we had players who could possess the ball in front of them, and that’s what created opportunities against Iowa.”

Junior forward Megan Pawloski played a vital role in the win, tallying assists on both goals Sunday.

“There was only one game over the weekend, so everyone had a lot of energy. We came out and moved the ball really well, and we finished opportunities,” Pawloski said. “We’ve been getting opportunities all season, and it was nice to start putting some away.”

Despite the vast improvement from the previous weekend, the Illini said they did not change their game plan.

“We did a lot of the same things,” senior forward Niki Read said. “When we work hard and run for each other, we get the points that we need, and that’s what happened.”

The Illini’s formation remained the same, and both Pawloski and Read said having DiBernardo in the mix provided a spark for the offense.

Read added that strong defensive play was also a factor in the offensive game.

“What is great about our team is that we had a really good defensive base, and we just keep plugging away, plugging away,” Read said, “And we’re just going to keep getting better offensively throughout the year.”

The rest of the team also thinks this is only the start of what the offense can become for the remaining schedule. Rayfield said the match against Iowa showed flashes of how well the team can play together at full strength, something the players are looking forward to.

“It’s obviously more fun when you’re the team that’s getting all the shots instead of defending it all the time,” Pawloski said. “It’ll just get better with time.”

_Charlie can be reached at [email protected]_